Nihilists at the Ticket Counter

December 13th, 2010  |  by  |  Published in Uncategorized  |  7 Comments

Subtle Photo-illustration from

Subtle Photo-illustration from

This weekend, the Northeast drowned in precipitate and a Midwestern whiteout killed the Metrodome (although seriously, we all know that the Vikings’ owner spent the last week up under the roof cutting a hole so he can force the prog voters of Minneapolis to become the next group of taxpayers to pay for a new luxury NFL stadium).

I, however, was west of all the calamities and the billion cancelled flights, in Colorado on this year’s big indulgence: a snowboarding/skiing week (more about vacation during this week’s Tantrums). It was actually all right in Colorado: just enough snow to stay on top of it and not be buried or snowed out of anything.

Why, then, am I still here with my family when my wife and I are supposed to be back at work in New York?

Because of a spam filter and horrid, horrid customer service from our friends at United Airlines.

We showed up yesterday, with kids and lunches packed, plane toys readied, 90 minutes before our flight at Eagle Airport. Nico excitedly watched as a small jet took off down the runway and up over the mountain as we drove up. We were all in a fine mood. Except that the counter was dark. There was no plane. After many minutes on hold with United, my wife’s glare literally melting the phone in my hand, I was informed that the flight we had been booked on (since February—these were frequent flier tickets) no longer existed. It was like a unicorn, a Dodo bird. UA6368 will be remembered only in song.

I was also told that I had been rebooked on a flight 90 minutes earlier, and that they had notified me in October, by email, of this change. That plane that Nico clapped at taking off? That was our plane.

Having done a thorough electronic autopsy: there was no email. At least, if it was sent, I never received it. My guess—because despite my fair amount of disgruntlement toward UniCon or whatever the new United-Continental behemoth will be called, I tend to believe that they did send an email—is that it got caught in the maw of Yahoo’s super-aggressive spam filter. They did not try to call me, though, despite the fact that they’ve got my number for notifications, and that the Right to Notification is second on their (clearly discredited) Customer Commitment list.

None of which helps me. Because with all of the disinterest that a Bangalore call-center script could summon, I was told in no uncertain terms that regardless of whose fault it was, because I had missed my flight from Eagle, I would not even be allowed to drive down the mountain to Denver (there was still time) to catch the next flight on our itinerary. Very sorry, sir, your entire reservation has been canceled.

My wife had to miss a day of work, which was the worst of it, because though she hasn’t missed a single day of work in the 1.5 years she’s had her job, not for sickness or any other reason, her bosses were hugely displeased. She’s having to prepare a dossier for them explaining what happened. I got to spend an epic four hours on the phone with United (I got hung up on once; lost the call three times; and was once transfered to Hertz, which had absolutely nothing to do with this at all) before she was booked on a flight today. I’m taking both kids by myself tomorrow.

It would all be a fiasco (and to my wife’s bosses, it still is), except for two things: we were not stranded overnight at some airport (inshallah we won’t be), and these children of mine could freaking care less about what happened: There is nothing as soothing and reassuring, when you  are an adult caught in a customer service death-spiral, than kids who just want to play with Legos and fight with each other in the airport. As much as their kid-anarchy can knock us off our various daily schedules, it’s a pleasure walking this earth with two people who seriously do not give a shit about any of it: school, work, schedules. They are nihilists, and I love them for it.


  1. Carly says:

    December 13th, 2010at 9:29 pm(#)

    A wretched end! Oh fickle vacation gods, you make us mortals mousier (or more caged rat-like, if you spy us, with kids, at airports) than the Thornburgh clan timorous and domestic. The true moral of this story seems to be the really terrible irrational work expectations for J, and for so many working parents.


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